Church, to the extent that Jesus envisioned such a thing, was meant to be merely missionary: go tell them what you’ve seen and heard. Not to put up buildings for worship. Not to establish very nice (but tax-exempt, thus suspect) charities. Not to found schools with crucifixes in classrooms.
Pope Francis even goes on to say, “There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization.” He doesn’t name them: he’s a glass half-full kind of guy.
Anyone expecting Francis to rejigger the organizational chart or to rewrite the rules of the Catholic Church, or of Christianity, had better be warned. He won’t.
He says the parish is OK. The bishops are OK. And yet … here and there he sprinkles some ideas of how they could be better. Some of them are quite radical.
He tells bishops, “In the mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, [the bishop] will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law.” Then he footnotes a whole rafter of articles of the Code of Canon law (specifically, canons 460-468; 492-502; 511-514; 536-537).
Watch those footnotes! Once you read the particular ones I have just cited it is clear that he is telling bishops: Guys, use synods and councils and other bodies we already have to ... listen to people!
Still, he sticks to his topic: “Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone. ”
Translation: Forget the brick-and-mortar issues, guys; start and end with evangelizing. If you must, sure, get together to plan out your strategy (with a healthy dose of listening), but don’t dwell on who wears what uniform or has which title. Go out and spread the word, for crying out loud.
He starts at home, saying “It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. ” Then he goes on to criticize the current centralization of ecclesiastical decisionmaking in Rome and to suggest some rearrangements.
In the end, the spirit of the thing is what counts:
Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.I’ll leave you with that thought today.
Next: temptations … they’re not what you think!